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Making 'The Score': A Look At The Fugees’ Final Album With Its Producers

Producers Salaam Remi, Jerry Wonder, and John Forté take us back to 1996.

It’s a story that music has heard before: a group goes their separate ways after an immensely successful album while desperate fans are left hanging in the balance. On February 13, 1996, the Fugees released The Score, the sophomore album would certify the New Jersey-based trio of Wyclef Jean, Lauryn Hill, and Pras Michel, as hip-hop’s new super group. But it would also be their final release together.

With the help of producers Jerry Wonder, Salaam Remi, and John Forté , the Fugees delivered a multi-platinum LP that sold 17 million copies worldwide and earned the coveted Best Rap Album Grammy award in 1997.

The Score was recorded in Booga Basement, Wonder’s homemade studio that became a hotbed of rap talents with Redman, Queen Latifah, Rah Digga among its visitors. Wonder, Wyclef’s first cousin, came to the states from Haiti. “My dad moved from Brooklyn and bought a house in East Orange, N.J.,” Woner tells VIBE. “I was staying with Wyclef’s mom and dad and we had to play church music. When my dad moved to Jersey, he bought the house, me and Wyclef and my other brother were so happy because he gave us the basement!”

Remi, a then up-and-coming producer from Queens now known for his work with Nas, Amy Winehouse, and more, started working with the Fugees’ through Jeff Boroughs, the group’s project manager at Columbia Records. Boroughs asked him to remix “Nappy Heads”, off the Fugees’ 1994 debut, Blunted on Reality. After their initial collaboration, Remi produced a Fat Joe beat that Hill asked to keep for The Score. The instrumental became “Fu-Gee-La,” the album’s lead single. “By the time I played the Fat Joe beat in the session, Wyclef wrote that ‘We used to be number 10,’” recalls Remi. “Lauryn went in the booth and sang through a bunch of different choruses, but when she hit on ‘Ooh la la la’ we were like ‘That’s the one right there!’”

Meanwhile, Forté was a 19-year-old aspiring rapper from Brooklyn who put his music career on hold to work behind the scenes. He joined The Score’s production roster via a friendship with Hill that began when he first saw the Fugees perform. He heard about them through a mutual friend at Columbia. “I end up going to see a show while I was still doing A&R at Rawkus Entertainment,” says Forté . “I remember walking into the Supper Club and these instruments, and I’m thinking to myself that I was in the wrong show. I was like, ‘I’m here to see a hip-hop show, why are there instruments on the stage?’ And the guy at the door was like ’It’s a hip-hop show. Trust me.’”

The incorporation of live instrumental and melodies made the Fugees unique, at a time when Tupac Shakur and Notorious B.I.G. were the hottest rappers in the game. “I saw the show and they blew my mind and afterwards I stuck around,” Forté continues. “I met [Hill] that night, we became fast and immediate friends. We stayed in touch and that was the beginning of a long relationship.”

To commemorate the 20th anniversary of The Score, VIBE spoke with Remi, Wonder and Forté, about the album that changed hip-hop.


What are some of your first memories of working on The Score?
Salaam Remi: Before they really even had a budget for the second album, we were working on songs for [the Spike Lee film] Clockers. During that session I had the beat for “Fu-Gee-La” and Wyclef had the first verse. We ended up finding a way for me to do that, so I pretty much recorded the song “Fu-Gee-La” before The Score process was even started.

Jerry Wonder: The first Fugees album didn’t really do well and we were like ‘On the next album we’re going to put a band together.’ The whole concept was we wanted to have live music. "The basement" was a platform where the music for all of us young cats just getting in and freestyling. Pras used to live there, I used to live there, Wyclef used to live there and Lauryn was always there. Then John Forté started coming to the "Booga Basement."

John Forté : I went out to [New] Jersey reluctantly, and I was playing them my beats. It was a tight small little basement [laughs], always crowded, especially at night. And it was packed, like 20 or 30 Haitians in a basement [laughs], either nodding their head or not. The jury would be out really quickly, if I didn’t get the head nod.

What immediately stood out about The Fugees’ work ethic?
Forté : I remember ‘Clef even before I knew him. When I was getting to know Lauryn — they were always in the studio, they were always working. While I may have been in the studio for three months, The Score itself might have been say years in the making, conceptually. It was constant. I just remember us always making music and trying to come up with beats, and just trying to get something special.

Remi: “[Fug-ee-la]” for Wyclef and Pras parts, took a day or two. But Ms. Lauryn Hill recorded her verse for about seven days straight. [She] was a perfectionist, and would always do her vocals over. She would come in day after day and keep recording. Not that she needed to, or anyone knew the difference, but for herself she always wanted to be better. That was part of her process.

What was the creative vibe in the studio?
Forté: The catharsis was in the actual creative process. Day in and day out, it was friendly competition to do better, to be better, it felt like an exercise in just pushing yourself.

Wonder: We were doing hip-hop with great melodies, and the content was great. We weren’t talking about bitches, or none of that. Like every album you buy now, kids can’t even listen to it. The Fugees album, anybody can listen to it. It was from a reality we came from, we were refugees.

What are the separate aspects that each Fugees’ member brought to the table?
Forté: ‘Clef was the visionary, Lauryn was the songbird, the sweet harmonies that made it all makes sense. Pras he’s the guy who was always open to suggestion. He was just willing to play the part, whatever that was. That in itself was tremendous quality.

Remi: If you look at The Score it says executive producer Pras, co-executive producers Wyclef and Lauryn. Pras was the pop ear of the gang. Pras would always look and see ‘Hey is the hook right? Is it strong enough?’ Wyclef was eclectic, Lauryn’s soulful, but Pras was like “Is this a hit?”

Wonder: [Lauryn] was always creative. She would always come up with great things that we would chop up. Everybody played a position, it didn’t just happen by luck. It was a bunch of kids and we all hard our talents.

How did The Score change your careers?
Forte: Me being near that album energetically, pre and post, was monumental. Opportunity-wise, I was able to tour with them. From a personal vantage point, my view, my scope was widened by my participation in the creation of the album.

Wonder: We never knew it was going to be a classic. I’ve produced seven albums for Wylcef, including The Score. That was my way in. Now I’m on my own doing great things.

Remi: It pushed me to the potential of my own effort. From my input, I brought another side of their potential out. I wasn’t just making beats and giving them to them. When we did “Nappy Heads” Wyclef rhymes for 14 minutes and I took certain parts from here and certain parts from there and pieced together his verse. I really helped them show their talent would become huge potential, even on those days when I recorded Lauryn’s verse I would call her ‘Madam Potential’ and she would always get frustrated. After the 50th time I called her that she got mad and said “Potentially what Salaam?” and I looked at her very calmly and said “Potentially the greatest of all time, if you stick with it.”

Do you think The Score’s success contributed to The Fugees break up?
Forte: I can’t speculate on that, the one that I can say is the simple laws of physics say what goes up must come down. And no one, stays on top forever.

Remi: I think that they just had a dynamic between each other that didn’t always fit. Even times when they were doing The Score when it seemed like they weren’t all going to be together as a group. That’s a personal dynamic that’s beyond my realm of knowledge, stuff that’s beyond my studio session. My studio session was about stuff getting done and keeping it moving.

Wonder: Sometimes you have unfinished business, and I’m not talking about numbers. I think the Fugees feel like ‘You didn’t do well by me, but we’re never going to get together and address the elephant in the room.’ Everybody’s still dealing with a lot of ego. Right now, it’s definitely not a money thing. But you never say things are impossible. If the Fugees could just say it’s really about the fans and let the egos go. Life is too short. We rent this world, and people love them.

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Nothing hits like a rapper talking their sh*t, especially if she happens to be a womxn. There's a confidence that oozes out from the speakers and into the spirits of a listener open to that addictive feminine energy. This year, we got to see this in a big way thanks to the crossover success of a batch of very different womxn in rap. There's the hot girl also known as Megan Thee Stallion who balances her college courses while grabbing up Billboard chart-topping hits; new mama Cardi B proves you can really have it all and make history at the same time (a la her solo rap Grammy win) and Lizzo, who constantly pushes what it means to be a "rapper" with her style of vibrant pop music.

In 2018, VIBE presented a year-end list dedicated to albums by womxn and this year continues that tradition of spotlighting some of our favorite womxn– who happen to rap. The term "female rapper" has become sour by the minute, with many artists in the game refusing to pair their gender to an artform seemingly jumpstarted by a black womxn. “I don’t want to even be a female rapper,” CHIKA told Teen Vogue recently. “I’m a rapper. So for someone to have a qualifier like that and throw it out there so publicly — it feels really backhanded. I don’t like [it].” She isn't the only one. As hip-hop continues to dominate pop culture, the womxn in the genre are demanding respect for the craft. Here's a list comprised of some of our favorite songs that hit the charts or slipped under the radar.


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Afrochella Sets Sight On Connecting The African Diaspora, One Festival At A Time

African music and culture are going global.

There’s a concerted effort to create and connect on the continent and to the continent. In Ghana and Nigeria specifically, a number of events, festivals, concerts, and activations have grown to prominence over the past five years, attracting newcomers and serving locals. This year, December will harvest a crop of opportunities for those abroad and at home to tap into the music, art, food, and fashion of the new-wave vanguard.

“Ghana remains home to the global African family,” Ghana Tourism Authority CEO Akwasi Agyemang said in an interview earlier this year. "We are positioning Ghana as a gateway to the West African market," Agyemang added. As African cultural productions popularize abroad, Accra and Lagos have become the go-to grounds for people of the diaspora to initiate immersion into experiencing Africa. 

The Ghana Tourism Authority and the Ministry of Tourism, Arts and Culture have lined up a slate of activities in an effort to boost the country’s tourism industry. The government has taken initiative to further pushing for mobilization, galvanizing both descendants and diasporans to visit, invest, and live in the country.

Certain factors make Ghana appealing for visitors. Along with it being one of the more stable nations in West Africa, according to a 2011 Forbes report, Ghana was ranked the 11th -most friendly country in the world, ranked higher than any other African country. But as of last year, according to the World Atlas, Ghana didn’t rank amongst the top 10 African countries to visit for tourism in 2018. There is already a history of diasporans permanently relocating to Ghana. The government attempted to facilitate this process when it waived some visa requirements and passed amendments to a 2002 law that permits people of African origin to apply to stay indefinitely in Ghana. 

But this year has been a particularly important one for visitors. This December marks the ending commemoration of the Year of Return. Ghana 2019 is an initiative of the government formally launched by the President of the Republic of Ghana in September 2019 in Washington, D.C. as a program for Africans in the diaspora to unite with Africans on the continent. The mission transcends a marketing strategy. The year 2019 commemorates 400 years since the first enslaved Africans were brought to Jamestown, Virginia. The program serves to recognize the surging people and the following generations of achievements, sacrifices since then. 

The past year has seen a steady influx to West Africa. According to a report in Quartz Africa, Ghana’s tourism sector contributed 5.5 percent to GDP in 2018, ranking in fourth place after gold, cocoa, and oil in terms of foreign exchange generation for the country. And the government is hoping for more growth. Ghana is reportedly projected to rake in an annual $8.3 billion from the tourism sector by the year 2027 in tandem with an estimated 4.3 million international tourist arrivals.

But with the opportunities for connection and investment comes a slate of new concerns attached to old ones. Tourism, for example, can be lucrative for local business, but also can have a broader disruptive impact on the nation’s economy. Then, there are the issues that programmers face to bring locals and visitors the sought-after idealized experiences of Ghana— a taxing and a challenging feat to execute in an environment that’s still developing its infrastructure in multiple sectors. Along with improper documentation of visitors, the 15-year development plan put in place to help push the numbers, in ways, has not been implemented in full force.

But a rush to Ghana is still projected, and there’s a slew of events coinciding in the region at the same time this year aiming to accommodate this. One of the events slated for a return is Afrochella, the annual art, music, and food festival happening in Accra from December 20 to January 5. Separate from the official year of return events, each event also aims to fulfill a similar mission and market individual appeal amidst similar events. There’s AfroNation, the popular Europe music festival holding its first-ever edition on Ghana’s coastline at the same time as Afrochella, while Nativeland is planning a selection of panels and immersive activations with Melanin Unscripted focusing on music, art, and culture in Lagos right before it.

Afrochella was conceptualized by Abdul Karim Abdullah in 2015. Abdullah, along with co-founder Kenny Agyapong, and COO Edward Adjaye, launched the full-scope festival with the hopes of curating a connection to the continent this year, focused on increasing visibility to the rising talent on the continent. Their 2019 theme is “Diaspora Calling,” aiming to promote networking within the Ghanaian community and diaspora, ensure African youth value and celebrate their native cultures while connecting communities through education, fashion, art, music, and business in Africa. 

Community involvement representative Emmanual Ansa states they want the event to become “the impetus and mecca for the celebration of African music, culture, and art.” But amidst the many options on the ground this year to fulfill these missions, where does Afrochella stand, and how does it stand out?

VIBE sat down with the Afrochella co-founder Abdullah to talk about the structural challenges of executing this initiative while appeasing the demands of a growing consumer base, the cultural significance of the event, and envisioning Ghana as a premier frontier for a global black connection.

Can you talk about the origin of Afrochella? What inspired it?

I went to school in Ghana for about seven years, and then I came back to the US and I went to high school in the Bronx—  High School For Teaching And The Professions. I went to Syracuse University in 2006 and got my bachelor's in psychology and biology. And then I got my master's in 2016 at CUNY Hunter college in public health. I've been working in medical research for eight and a half years. But this has been a passion of mine that I've always done on the side, which is throwing African-inspired events.

That’s when my team came together. It started out with me wanting to do a festival here in New York called Native Tongue festival, and that was geared towards food. I just wanted to explain the culture and engage people within the diaspora. But then, on our yearly trip to Ghana, I found that we would gather and we would have a great time, but we couldn't really have that much of an effect once we left. I felt like we could have an effect; we could encourage more people to reach back home and do certain things by creating a space where we can engage each other. I thought there was so much talent coming in from all over the world that were from Ghanian descent or African descent and if we could create a place where we can galvanize all of that and the people that are doing amazing things within those industries, we would be able to create something pretty good. [In] 2017, we decided to do something like that.

How has it changed since 2017? Has it been easier to translate what you're trying to do in terms of this new interest in Africa — Ghana and Nigeria in particular? 

My team is battle-tested. We understand what we have to do in order to make the event successful. But, I wouldn't say it's been easier; each year presented different challenges for us. In year one, it was financial. Until this year, it was navigating bureaucracies. Last year, it was navigating governmental agencies. This year is navigating competition, navigating finding more funding.  One of the things that we noticed about events in Ghana specifically is that once it [nears] completion, people tend to not attend it anymore. What we want to make sure we do is every year we want to increase the amount of people that attend— and each year we have at least by 30 percent. Each year, we've been able to define our message more clearly. 

Talk a little bit about the government in Ghana. How has it been dealing with things on the bureaucracy level?

I would say our event is doing a big service to Ghana. Afrochella has definitely given people an opportunity to visit Ghana. The government should support us in a way that makes gaining access to certain government facilities easier. But that has not been the case. We've had to be very proactive about that with regards to certain policies that may exist that are not written on an online forum. Like in America, if I wanted to do a special event in the park, I'd be able to go to an online source. I'd be able to see all the things that need to do in order to get a specific permit for a specific venue. In Ghana, these things don't exist.

For instance, this year we received an email from some agency. Out of all of the years, we've never communicated with them and in the third year, they're reaching out to us about musician copyrights and, apparently, we have to pay a tax. Those are the kinds of things that we've faced. You can end up paying people that are not actually supposed to get paid. And there's no way of you knowing whether or not it exists or doesn't exist. 

Last year, we had a very weird incident four days before the festival. We were told by the Ministry of Aviation that our stadium is right by the takeoff of the planes leaving Accra. I would think that the venue that we're renting out for this festival would be able to let us know, “hey, you need to do this with the Ministry of Aviation,”— they did not. The day before Christmas, we got a notification that we have to change venues because they feel our lights will interfere with flights taking off. It's, of course, an accident. So, we reached out to the Ministry of Aviation, sat down with the director and devised a plan in order to allow our event to continue. Those are the kinds of things we faced as an event that we are still trying to navigate. Hopefully, as we grow, it will get easier.

Do you think it'll get easier when some type of infrastructure is built to help those types of events move more smoothly?

I think that Ghana is going to have to look itself in the mirror. We all don't know what to expect in December. Because there are a lot of people going to Ghana in December, the anticipation is very high. All the major hotels in Accra are sold out. How Accra responds to the influx of people I think should inform the government on how they should prepare for events and things like this for the future. I do hope that there is an effort created to streamline policies. 

I would like for the government to encourage events. I think events is one of the major drivers of tourism. And if they're paying attention, they will notice that a lot of people are coming to Accra for Afrochella and the events that exist during that last week of Christmas. The double mission is to take a deeper look at this creative industry and figure out a way to encourage that positively in a way that it affects both the people on the ground and the people within the diaspora. 

The government has not been welcoming this with open arms or does it not have any type of structured initiative to help this run smoothly?

I'm not saying that. I just feel like in general, we do not know what changes in infrastructure or policy being made to accommodate the amount of people that are coming in. For instance, with Afrochella we understand that because there's going to be so many people—there was an excessive amount of traffic coming into the stadium last year—that we need to figure out a way to get people to the festival in shuttles. If we can get people that are shuttles, then we could reduce the amount of cars. We reached out to the Ministry of Roads to help us so we can avoid traffic in front of the stadium and that we can make sure that there's a safe way for people to enter. This is some of the planning that we have done. Until now, I personally have not seen any information come out, access [to] policies that exist. 

One of the major complaints that people from the diaspora face when they go to Africa during Christmas time is we feel that we should be having the same sort of customer service that we enjoy abroad. With the influx of people, I think that it's going to get worse.

We just wanna make sure that infrastructure exists to make sure that people that are coming do not disrupt the way of life in Accra.

There are a lot of other events happening around the same time as Afrochella. What is the concerted effort to kind of stand out from the rest?

Our goal is to highlight the thriving millennial talent from within the continent. So we take pride in making sure that we're highlighting people within various industries of food, fashion, music. With our Afrochella Talk series, we’ve been able to highlight people that have been doing amazing things within the creative industry. In December, we'll be doing one on music. And this is an opportunity to be able to educate people on opportunities that may exist within their field or create a platform for people to be able to discuss questions they may have. 

We're also involved heavily in charity. Last year, we supported Water Aid to help provide clean water to families in need. The year before that, we gave out school supplies to kids within Madina Zongo. This year, we're doing charity twofold. We're rebuilding an orphanage school, in Jamestown, Accra and also providing them with school supplies. We call this initiative Afrochella Reads]. We’re also doing Afrochella Feeds on December 26th. 

Our goal when we bring people to Ghana is not just to come and turn up, not just to have a good time, but also to give them a feel of the vibration of the country, what the culture is.For us, it's a holistic approach.

What does the full festival entail?

The festival itself is art, music, food, fashion and all of that culminates in our eyes what culture is. We believe that each part of these is equally as important. Not one part is more important than the other and that we should celebrate them together. In addition to people getting to go to our festival, we also give them the opportunity to be able to engage with the country through our tours, through our charity. The tours and the charity that we do is to make people understand that yes, Africa is a good time— you can go to all the clubs— but we want to make sure you leave and provide an impact at the same time. 

Talk a little bit about the Audiomack rising star challenge and that effort to kind of curate the connection with music and culture.

With the rise of afropop music in America, I feel these artists deserve a chance. Right now, the popular, mainstream artists are the ones that are getting the looks they deserve. But I think that there are a lot of talents that exist from the continent that deserve to showcase their talent.

The other aspect of it is, I feel that people in the continent are using all of these apps and all of these different services and they hardly get to connect with representatives from those services. One of our goals is to make sure that we partner with these companies and give them the opportunity to invest in the talent directly. With Audiomack, we're doing exactly that in that we're giving seven individuals an opportunity to perform at Afrochella. And the one with the most streams, we’re giving them $1,000 towards their career and we’re giving them an opportunity to for a studio session at our partners BBnZ Live. This is one model of the type of partnerships we want to, we look to create with companies in the future. 

Why is this year in particular so important for the reconnection of the diaspora in the context of the 400-year anniversary?

A lot of the conversation between the diaspora and the people from the continent is what makes us different, why we don't get along. What we want to do as a festival is take that conversation and change it into what can we learn from each other and how can we help each other. I think that it's very important that as you see the Chinese and the Japanese and the Americans and everyone reaching for Africa, that we engage the people in the diaspora to make them understand that there are opportunities that exist and there is amazing talent in Africa and they are interested in starting a business and you're interested in developing a space and you can engage with your counterparts on the continent and help build the continent yourself.

I think the more black people we get to invest in the continent, as a whole black will be helping each other. This year is absolutely important and I think that shoutout should go to Nana Akufo-Addo of Ghana for declaring this year The Year of Return. Ghana is definitely a good site that people can visit, but we hope that as people enjoy themselves and have that experience that they use that as a platform to visit other African countries and see what opportunities are there for them to be able to leave a lasting impact on the continent.

This interview was lightly edited for clarity.

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The 25 Best Latinx Albums Of 2019

As we inch closer to the end of another memorable chapter in music, the Spanish-language gap gets bigger by the day. To anyone who believed reggaeton's second coming or Latin trap was a trend were gravely mistaken as artists across the diaspora found success on the charts and in the streaming world. Artists like Bad Bunny, Rosalía and J Balvin continued to thrive off last year's releases while dropping memorable singles (and joint projects). Others like Sech broke the mold for the marriage of hip-hop and reggaeton with Panamanian pride. Legends like Mark Anthony and Ivy Queen reminded us of their magic while rising artists like Rico Nasty, DaniLeigh and Melii provided major star power and creative visuals for their tunes. Latinx music has continued to push boundaries and the same goes for our list.

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